The experience of watching a sporting event is, obviously, much different than participating in one.
When you watch a game and then rewind it, your memory tends to be panoramic and full. As a player, though, your experience and recollection tend to be more isolated and sporadic.
Perhaps that difference can help explain some of the strain that comes when parents and youth hockey players talk about a game after it happens.
These conversations often are attempted on the car ride home – and in many cases, the motivations and memories are quite different. Bob Mancini, a regional director for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, has some tips on what to say and what not to say – or whether to say anything at all – as a parent after a game.
A consistent message that can be applied to all situations is simple but effective.
“The most important thing is that we tell our kids how much we enjoy watching them play,” Mancini said. “The bigger lessons are that you’re going to win some games and lose games. We all want to play well, but there are times when you might not play as well as hoped. If we all accept that there are going to be ups and downs, we will make things better.”
That helps avoid too much emphasis on wins or losses.
“If we keep the entire environment positive and we allow the child to have failure and success I think we’ve already created a healthy environment,” Mancini said.
Along the lines of staying positive, it’s critical that parents resist the urge to vent frustrations about coaches or other adults in leadership roles.
That can lead to a shift in a child’s perspective and lead to your son or daughter being disrespectful.
“I think the age of the child is very important, and I think one of the biggest don’ts is, ‘don’t bash the coach,’” Mancini said. “I think our kids need to understand that we support the coach and the endeavors of coach/referee. We support a positive environment around the game. That’s really, really important.”
Don’t force it
Sometimes silence is golden. For a variety of reasons – some obvious, some perhaps not – kids might not want to talk about a game at all.
And that should be fine with parents, Mancini says.
“As parents we’re the ones who want to have conversations,” Mancini said. “We should remember it’s not about us, it’s about the players. As parents and even as hockey people we have to be better at recognizing that.”
Again, that gets back to the initial idea that parents as passive observers have a much different perspective on a game that just happened than kids do. As such, it’s important to follow a child’s lead instead of dictating the conversation.
“We have to recognize that, depending on the age of child, when things aren’t as great as everybody hoped, they’re not going to want to talk about it,” Mancini said. “It doesn’t even have to be when they lost or struggled. There are a lot of kids who have a fantastic experience in a game, but they get in the car and don’t want to talk about hockey. They want to visit with cousins, read a book or watch a movie.”
Resist the urge to compare
If there is a conversation about a game, one thing particularly important as parents at the 10U level is to resist the urge to make comparisons between players. There are too many variables for that to be seen as a positive.
“It’s not about comparing their son or daughter to another player,” Mancini said. “We have to start the conversation with, ‘If you really want to do better, just do the best you can and be the best player you can.’ Don’t worry about the player across the stall or bench.”
After all, even if these tips are generalized for all 10U players, your son or daughter is unique.
“I think at times the messaging goes sideways at a young age,” Mancini said. “We always feel like we need to compare to someone else instead of allowing them to grow at his or her own pace.”